Jordana Raban loves that there are giant holiday symbols standing tall in Basking Ridge, N.J. From the huge Chanukah menorah to what some say is the world’s biggest dreidel, “it makes me proud to drive by and see it,” she says. “It’s a nice symbol of the fact that there is Jewish life in the area, and that we’re very proud in showcasing it.”

Rabbi Yitzchok Moully, youth director of the Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish Center in Basking Ridge, says the nine-foot menorah on the center’s front lawn and the 15-year-old “World’s Biggest Dreidel” presiding over a busy intersection are part of the area’s celebration of Jewish pride during the Chanukah season. The big event is the center’s annual community Chanukah party, which will feature an electric light show, menorah lighting and, for the kids, glow-in-the-dark dreidel painting. Every year, Moully sees new faces at the party.

“People come to Chanukah,” he states matter-of-factly.

And not just in New Jersey. All over the world, from London to Hong Kong and Thailand to New York, Chabad-Lubavitch centers’ staggering buffet of concerts, menorah lightings, celebratory meals and other related events are among the most highly attended programs of the year. In the Empire State, Binghamton University students filled a giant dreidel with $8,000 worth of toys to be donated to children with cancer, and in Swampscott, Mass., Chabad of the North Shore will be holding its first “Latke Race,” a pair of 5K and one-mile runs timed to the Festival of Lights.

Commemorating the victory more than 2,000 years ago of the Jewish Maccabees against their Syrian-Greek rulers, and the subsequent rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem using a lone jar of unblemished oil that lasted miraculously for eight days, Chanukah took on a public face relatively recently. In 1974 Rabbi Abraham Shemtov lit the first public Chanukah menorah in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, and one year later, S. Francisco became the site of the first major public menorah lighting.

A line of American Chabad Houses, joined by state governors, followed with their own similar events, and in 1980 the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, issued a directive encouraging menorah lightings in public places in order to publicize the Chanukah miracle. With strong grassroots support from local communities and the backing of other Jewish organizations, the pace of such events picked up and then, in 1987, the Rebbe formally launched a global Chanukah menorah campaign.

(To find Chanukah events in your area, as well as’s collection of inspirational stories, videos and recipes, click here. The eight-day holiday begins Tuesday night.)

In Florida, Rabbi Raphael Tennenhaus of Chabad of South Broward is expecting the biggest crowd yet, upwards of 10,000 people for the 32nd annual South Florida Chanukah Festival, a three-hour event that will feature live music, acrobats and a raffle.

“We have something for every age group,” he says.

The event, which Tennenhaus and his staff have been working on since the summer, regularly draws government officials, Jewish community leaders and people of all backgrounds.

“There are many Jewish people who perhaps have not yet gone to synagogue on Yom Kippur, but they will make it a tradition to come to this Chanukah festival,” relates the rabbi. “And to us, that’s a big statement.”

Volunteers construct the annual dreidel display in Basking Ridge, N.J.
Volunteers construct the annual dreidel display in Basking Ridge, N.J.

The festival is a chance to inspire attendees in a setting outside of a classroom or a lecture, adds Tennenhaus, noting that stories abound of people signing their children up for Hebrew school or increasing their involvement in Jewish experiences after attending the celebration.

“Many thousands of souls are ignited that night, and when a soul is ignited, you don’t know where that can take them,” he says. “It doesn’t end at 10:00 when the festival is over.”

Rabbi Asher and Henya Federman, directors of Chabad-Lubavitch of the U.S. Virgin Islands, are preparing for Chanukah with the help of several visiting rabbinical students, and will welcome tourists and locals alike for a memorable holiday experience. This year, they expect to hand out about 2,000 menorahs to Jewish visitors coming off cruise ships and staying in hotels. The highlight, says Asher Federman, is the expression on travelers’ faces when they realize there’s no place too distant to experience the beauty of the holiday.

In addition to menorah lightings every night in various hotels, a BBQ event and activities specifically for families with young children, the Federmans will also welcome people to daily prayer services and a Friday night party, and dispatch 10 menorah-topped vehicles to bring menorahs, jelly donuts and latkes wherever they’re needed.

“If people don’t come to you, you bring it to them,” states Federman.

Back in New Jersey, Raban says it’s nice to come together and celebrate the beauty of Chanukah.

“It really creates a wonderful sense of belonging in a Jewish community for everyone to come together during a holiday period,” she explains. Even better, she can take her sons, Benjamin, 10, and Aaron Binstock, 8, to a warm and welcoming environment where they’ll get to celebrate Chanukah, as she calls it, “with a twist.”

For Raban, there’s something special about being Jewish this time of year.

“I think it’s extremely important for the kids,” she says. “It creates this holiday aura, if you will, that makes this time of year feel really special and celebratory.”